Writing Characters with the Enneagram, Part Six: The Loyalist
If you’re looking for ideas for a character or want to dig deeper into a character you’ve already developed, the Enneagram—a personality system that divides people into nine types—is a useful tool.
The Enneagram is all about what fears and emotions drive people. Rather than simply noting what people do, it dives into why they do it. That is powerful information in a writer’s hands. What happens when a character has to face their fear? What if they don’t get what they want? How might they travel from an unhealthy version of their number to a healthy version, or vice versa?
For example, Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender is a Loyalist. His character arc is driven by his relationship with his father. At the beginning of the show, he is angry and passive aggressive—the root of his behaviour is fear, the key emotional issue of Fours. He’s afraid of letting his father down, he’s afraid of punishment, and he’s afraid of losing his position as a prince of the Fire Nation. He stays loyal to his father for a long time, even though the Fire Lord is abusive and horrible. But in his heart, he wants to become a better king than his father and gain people’s respect.
And here lies the genius of the Enneagram—in addition to giving you insights into your characters’ fears and desires, it suggests obstacles you can throw in front of your characters—challenges that emotionally invest them in their journey.
The Enneagram can be a complex system when you dig into it, but I’ve distilled this post into a basic overview of the Enneagram Six and all the information you need to kickstart your character creation.
Overview of the Three Subtypes
Perhaps you’re already familiar with the nine personality types of the Enneagram: One, the Reformer; Two, the Helper; Three, the Achiever; Four, the Individualist; Five, the Investigator; Six, the Loyalist; Seven, the Enthusiast; Eight, the Challenger; and Nine, the Peacemaker. But there are also three subtypes under each of these. That’s a whopping 27 personality options, with endless variations!
The Enneagram suggests that people have three basic survival instincts that impact how you act, think, and feel: self-preservation, where your survival depends on the physical things you need to live (e.g. health, food, stability, protection); social, where your survival depends on connecting with others and receiving care through relationships; and sexual (also referred to as one-to-one, because sex and romance isn’t always involved), where your survival depends on attracting individuals to meet your needs.
While everyone has each of these instincts, the idea behind the three subtypes is that there is a dominant instinct, and how it interacts with a character’s emotional issue (for Enneagram Sixes, this is fear), defines your subtype. I go into more detail about the three subtypes for Loyalists below, and include fictional examples for each.
Is Your Character a Loyalist?
Enneagram Sixes appreciate consistency, order, plans, and rules. They are good at predicting things that might go wrong and planning accordingly, though this can also make them overly-cautious and anxious. They worry over decisions they have to make, often losing confidence in their own judgement. Sixes doubt themselves when they have to choose a side or make a decision.
Strengths: Independent, cooperative, dedicated, trustworthy, hard-working, self-sacrificing, organized, vigilant, loyal
Flaws: Passive-aggressive, evasive, indecisive, anxious, negative, unpredictable, defensive, suspicious
Emotional issue: Fear. Sixes are always on the lookout for danger, and this often comes out as anxiety.
Story obstacles: Sixes tend to get anxious when they feel abandoned or don’t know who to give their loyalty to. They are often their own worst obstacles—even when life is good, they’ll wonder what will come along and ruin it. They will also remain loyal to a person or set of ideals out of duty and fear, regardless of the morality or healthiness of their attachment.
Unhealthy Sixes: They don’t trust themselves. They are susceptible to panic and may search for a saviour to help them so they don’t have to take responsibility for their actions. These Sixes are afraid others are out to get them and that danger is around every corner.
Average Sixes: They are either rebellious to authority or subservient to it. They appreciate rules so they don’t have to think for themselves but, paradoxically, are also suspicious of these guidelines. They are good at anticipating problems but constantly being on edge takes its toll on them.
Mature Sixes: They learn to trust themselves and take ownership over their decisions. They become dedicated to people or movements that they are passionate about, forming unbreakable bonds. They are better at trusting others and acting in cooperation. They are highly efficient as individuals and as part of a team, courageous leaders, and encouragers.
Quick Tip: For a hero’s arc, move them from Unhealthy to Average, or Average to Mature. For a villain’s arc, move them from Mature to Average, or Average to Unhealthy (sometimes, Average villains are more interesting than Unhealthy ones, because they are more relatable). Characters may also move between these health levels depending on whether they are stressed or at peace.
The Three Types of Loyalists
If the above sounds like your character (or a character you would like to create), you can dig even further into their personality by assigning them one of these three subtypes.
The Consort (Self-Preservation Subtype)
Consorts react to their fear by making alliances to feel protected, and they are attracted to “strong” people. They don’t trust themselves to be independent, and relationships give them a sense of security; however, they’re also afraid of disappointing those closest to them and losing that security. Thus, they may become people-pleasers and avoid voicing their own needs.
These Sixes are friendly, warm, and supportive. They appear calm on the outside but are anxious and doubt themselves on the inside, with difficulty expressing anger. They also have a tough time making decisions, which relates to their lack of trust in themselves.
Willow Rosenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Nott (Critical Role)
Sun-Hwa Kwon (Lost)
Frodo Baggins (The Lord of the Rings)
Rory Williams (Doctor Who)
Tali-Zorah (Mass Effect series)
Sokka (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
The Allegiant (Social Subtype)
Cool, efficient, and precise, Allegiants lean on an authority to feel safe—and that authority could be a group, a person, a set of rules, or their own logic. They like clear guidelines and structure. They dislike indecisiveness. They can be controlling, impatient, and judgemental. They often feel uncertain, but overcompensate with a facade of self-assuredness. They hold tight to their ideologies to feel safe.
This orientation towards rules allows the Allegiant to avoid personal responsibility for their actions and feeds their fear of disapproval from authorities. Allegiants are incredibly loyal, even if they have chosen an immoral authority figure. These are the types of people who never stray from their code of devotion and see things in black and white.
Zoe Washburne (Firefly)
Inej Ghafa (Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo)
Diego Hargreeves (The Umbrella Academy)
Joel Miller (The Last of Us)
Catra (She-Ra and the Princesses of Power)
Natasha Romanoff (Marvel Cinematic Universe)
Garrus Vakarian (Mass Effect series)
The Aggressor (Sexual Subtype)
To deal with their fear, Aggressors confront danger head on. They put their trust in themselves rather than rules or other people. They’re often physically strong, bold, and threatening, so they are the Six’s countertype, since they don’t look afraid.
Argumentative and intimidating, Aggressors think they are less likely to be threatened if they appear strong. They may feel secure by having power over others and leading through fear; after all, if people are afraid of them, they will be too scared to hurt them. Others are perceived as rebels or daredevils by constantly jumping into danger.
These Sixes want to be independent and avoid feeling cheated or manipulated. They’re the types of people who always play devil’s advocate in a conversation, because they’re afraid of making mistakes and constantly think about both sides of a situation. Healthy Aggressors learn to deal with their fear in less antagonistic ways.
Zuko (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
Beauregard Lionett (Critical Role)
Ellie (The Last of Us)
Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones)
Saruman (The Lord of the Rings)
Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games)
Check out the rest of the “Writing Characters with the Enneagram” blog series (I’ll update these links when the posts go live):
Part Six: The Loyalist
If you would like to dig even deeper into the Enneagram, here are some more helpful resources:
The Enneagram Institute website, Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson
The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge by Beatrice Chestnut, PhD
The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
“How to Use the Enneagram to Create Compelling Characters with H. Claire Taylor” — Plottr, YouTube
“5 Ways to Use the Enneagram to Write Better Characters” — K.M. Weiland, Helping Writers Become Authors